Saturday, July 11, 2015

Added Value & False Economies

According to Wikipedia (which, of course, is the font of all knowledge), synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts - and I can't think of a better example of synergy than a good layout work session.

A few nights ago I had six(!) guys over to help work on the layout. I had a pretty ambitious to-do list, including finishing the bus line for the new Shoreline section, installing feeders in the staging yard and the Shoreline's "east loop," modifying old MicroEngineering turnouts to make them DCC friendly, and even starting a bit of scenery. Fortunately, there was enough variety of things to do so that folks could choose to do something they'd enjoy (or at least avoid something they'd hate). Unfortunately, I'm still not great about making sure everybody has everything they need to do what they need to do (and I really should have remembered to put down drop cloths under the to-be-scenicked sections). But the guys are great, good humored, flexible, and most of all, patient. It made for a VERY productive evening!
Roman & Joseph hard at work on "feederizing" the "east" loop and staging yard. I'd removed all the lumber from underneath this section for more comfortable access. Tom is working on the busway bus line, but ducked out of the picture.
Pete and Bill starting scenery!! Here they are on the Valley Line between Wethersfield & Rocky Hill (aka the big turnback loop/blob in the middle of the room)
Dick & Randy hard at work helping me modify ME turnouts
Having the guys over certainly added value to the relatively limited time we could get together. Not counting the synergy, but in raw man hours alone I saved more than 2-3 full days' work - especially critical with only a few weeks left before the open house.

Not only did I save a boatload of time, but I thought I was pretty clever when I scored a bunch of MicroEngineering turnouts at a "great price" on eBay. Unfortunately, this so-called deal turned into a colossal false economy when I discovered they were the old style turnouts and would need to be made DCC friendly. That's what Dick & Randy are helping me with in the photo above.

VERY briefly (you can get much more detail/info here), these old style turnouts are "power-routing" which means that the frog, closure rails, and points are all soldered together. When you power this type of turnout, the frog/closure rail/point assembly gets its power from whatever stock rail the points are touching. Not only is relying on this point/rail connection for power sketchy at best, a wheel could easily bridge the gap between the point and the rail on the other side of the turnout. Shorts wreak havoc with DCC. The solution is to:
  1. Isolate the frog
  2. Connect the closure rails to the adjacent stock rails
  3. Isolate the points from each other by cutting a gap in the metal throwbar.
Sounds easy enough - and the first two steps are. But - WARNING! - that last step is enough to make you want to give up the hobby . . .

In order to electrically connect the closure rails to the stock rails, you'll have to remove the plastic web from underneath the rails. That way you can (or, in my case, Randy and Dick can) solder a little bridging wire to the underside of the rails.
I had the relatively easy job of isolating the frog. A cut-off wheel in a Dremel makes this quick work. Having a foot-pedal speed adjuster makes it even nicer. Having safety glasses is an absolute must!
But I (more than) made up for the easy frog isolation with this:

That, my friends, is a gapped metal throwbar. Yes, it's attached to a full-length plastic throwbar underneath. No, I didn't cut though that plastic, so everything's still attached. Yes, this task was an ABSOLUTE BEAR to do. No, I will NEVER EVER do it again - I don't care how cheap the turnouts are (I really really should have asked the seller what type of turnouts they were before I bid...)

The only reason I even attempted this task was, well, I already had the turnouts and knew I wouldn't be able to find another sucker person willing to buy them. Oh, and I have a flex-shaft for my Dremel, a foot pedal to control speed, and a teeny-tiny cutting bit.

But even with The Most Careful work, I still trashed two turnouts. Thankfully, not only did Randy bring some PC board ties, he graciously salvaged the turnouts by soldering the PCBs in place of the throwbar, doing so with grace and humor - which kept me from tossing out the window everything within my immediate reach.

So now I have a pile of now-DCC-friendly ME turnouts to install. I can only hope that my throwbar-gap-cutting hasn't compromised the points too much. We'll see how they hold up during ops sessions...

The alternative - and what I probably should have done to begin with (other than purchasing the right turnouts in the first place) - would be to just replace the stock throwbar with PCB ties. Anticipating that I may end up having to do that sometime in the future (cuz I figure at least one of these things is gonna fail), I removed the web from underneath the rails next to the throwbar, on the frog-side. That way I can (or Randy can) solder a PCB tie to the underside of the points, even while the turnout is in place.


After all that stress, it was nice to go back to the basement and see what all the other - more sane - guys accomplished...

Here's where Pete and Bill ended up on the blob - base scenery and a really cool rockface/cut started!

And Tom, Roman, and Joseph finished up wiring the East End - and are still smiles despite the host-induced craziness.
The takeaway is pretty clear: Don't let economizing in one area overshadow or offset the added value in another area. The mistakes of false economy will surely diminish as you focus on the synergy of the session.

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